Benedict’s Rule: Space for Holy Silence

Chapter 52 of the Rule deals with the creation and maintenance of sacred, silent space in the monastery.  The Oratory corresponds most closely to what we today call the Sanctuary.

The Oratory was to be a place where monks could pray in undisturbed silence anytime during the day.  It was a space wholly dedicated to worship—public and private.

I don’t want to be an “old fogey” in this blog, but as I read this chapter, I wondered if we have lost something as our sanctuaries are often “noisy” before and after worship services.  I am all for people having the opportunity to visit, catch up on things, etc.  But perhaps we have chosen the wrong place for doing it.

There may be folks who would like to come early and pray quietly—or stay late and pray silently.  But because the rest of us use the space to “chat,” they probably won’t do it.  Because they are nice folks, they’ll probably never tell us that our conversation is distracting.  So, we’ll never realize we were interrupting something that might have made their time at church all the more reverent.

Without making a big deal out of it, the monastic community simply said, keep the Oratory as quiet place.  It wouldn’t be that hard to return the sanctuary to a similarly quiet space.  And who knows what might happen if we did?

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Benedict’s Rule: Space for Holy Silence

  1. flutterby43 says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! I once counted the seconds following the statement “a moment of silence.” I almost made it to ten. While I fully admit to my own contribution to the noise, this “young”, nice person has thought a LOT about this (at least every Sunday!), but I’ve chosen to “keep silent” on the matter. No one would be able to “hear me,” anyway! 😉

  2. Warren Lynn says:

    Thank you for your intuitive wisdom, founded in ancient tradition. Old fogey, or not, I know many younger folks who desire the silence before and/or after worship about which you speak. With other spaces in the buildings of our churches designed for fellowship, a wee bit of discipline for the community to mindfully reserve sanctuary spaces for contemplative practice before and after worship would be a refreshingly hospitable act. I have already linked this article on several pages of my Well-Fed Spirit Website

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